JWRP Sister Spotlight: Ellen Finkelstein
Ellen Finkelstein is a mother, the Director of Marketing at the Jewish Family & Children's Services of Northern New Jersey, a JWRP sister, and a recent JWRP madricha. This summer, Ellen fulfilled her dream by traveling to Israel with her family, including her three sons and 79-year-old mother. In our interview, Ellen shared how she has passed on a love of Israel to her children and what surprised her most about her sons’ experiences in Israel.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I had never traveled to Israel, and I was excited about traveling there with a group of Jewish mothers. I had also recently experienced a difficult time in my life. Within a few years, I lost my brother and my father, and my child suffered from cancer. I knew that MOMentum would give me the chance to get away and have a positive experience.
How did MOMentum impact you?
Being in Jerusalem was overwhelming and incredible. I had the opportunity to see things that I’d only dreamt of, alongside a supportive group of women who are now my true sisters. Before the trip, I felt guilty that I was traveling to Israel though my father and brother were never able to. Someone from my group recommended that I write their names on a piece of paper and leave it in the Kotel. When I put the note in the Kotel, I felt a huge release and was able to let go of some of my grief.
The Challah Bake was also very powerful. While baking challah alongside 200 JWRP sisters, we heard a story about Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and Mrs. C — three women who have each prepared Shabbat meals for their families every week for 20 years, but have had entirely different experiences. Mrs. A is resentful that no one ever helps her. Mrs. B does everything by rote, and hardly pays attention to what she’s doing. And Mrs. C thinks about how thankful she is to feed her family and to eat Shabbat dinner with them each week. After years of dealing with death, illness, and strife, I had become a bitter person. But after hearing this story, I decided to become Mrs. C, and I left that bitterness in Israel. Today, I am a calmer and more grateful person.
Tell us about your family’s trip to Israel.
During our eight days in Israel, we traveled the country — from Tzfat to Masada and the Dead Sea. We visited almost every border, and we spent time in Jerusalem. My youngest son even wrapped tefillin for the first time at the Kotel. We hired David Sussman, my MOMentum Trip tour guide, to take us around the country, and we got together with friends who are like family to us. My mother never expected to be able to visit Israel, and she prepared for our trip by working out a few days each week. She wanted to be able to do everything on the itinerary, including hike through Ein Gedi and ride on a camel. It was a very emotional experience for her, and she didn’t miss a minute of the trip. When I asked my kids what the highlight of the trip was for them, I expected them to say, the chocolate factory visit or the jeep ride. But, instead, they all agreed that speaking with Rabbi Clyman about the power of prayer and gratitude was the most meaningful part of the entire week. I realized then that everything we’d done to be able to take this trip to Israel had been worth it.
How have you passed on your love of Israel to your family?
First of all, I brought them to Israel. Financially, it wasn’t easy for us to do it, but we made the trip a priority. I’ve also sent my older children on Israel trips, which gave them a love of Israel before I could bring them myself. My youngest son attends a Jewish day school, where he learns about Israel and Jewish values, and all of my kids attend the same Jewish camp that I attended. When I returned for my 35-year reunion and saw Israeli flags hanging from the bunks, I was happy to see that their daily experience is imbued with a love of Israel.